In his now highly-successful career, Nathan Lyon has bowled to all the great batsmen who have played in his era. From the likes of Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli, the off-spinner has been tested against the best batters in the world. But when he was asked in an interview to name the batsman he found most difficult to bowl at, the Australian chose AB de Villiers.
The reason cited by him for his choice presents the reason why the South African has earned the epithet of Mr 360. Lyon said on 'The Back Page Live,' an Australian television show, that while bowling to de Villiers, he felt that the former Proteas batsman could hit him anywhere at any time.
Considering that Indian batsmen were traditionally regarded as the most skilful in playing spin, it comes as a big surprise that Lyon faced most difficulty not from an Indian, or for that matter any other Asian, but a South African.
In his career, the 31-year old Aussie has played 15 Tests against South Africa and 18 against India. Kohli and de Villiers have been present in almost all these matches of their respective teams. So, it says a lot about de Villiers' ability to play spin that the offie rates him higher than any other batsman.
If we were to look at the record of the off-spinner against the two teams, he has done considerably better vs the Indians. While he has 85 wickets against the Asian giants with an average of 32.60 and strike rate of 60.2, against South Africa, he has 46 wickets at an average of 42.28 and strike rate of 83.7. The disparity can partly be attributed to highly spin-friendly conditions that the bowler had on his two visits to India.
But even when it comes to bowling in his own country, he has a clearly better record against the sub-continental side. Gary, as he is fondly called by his teammates, has taken 18 wickets in 6 Tests against the South Africans in Australia at an average of 46.22 and strike rate of over 91. Against India at home, he has 51 wickets in 11 Tests and with an average just under 34 and strike rate a shade under 66. Clearly, home or away, Lyon loves bowling at the Indian team.
South Africa's better record against Lyon
It is noteworthy that India's supposed dominance against spin bowling has considerably declined in recent years. Even somebody like Kohli has had difficulties facing good spinners in the past. De Villiers, on the other hand, seems highly adept at playing the slower bowlers. Having been a hockey player in his pre-cricket days, he seems to have wonderful wristwork that allows him to place the ball in whichever area he desires.
Lyon has had the opportunity to bowl at both Kohli and AB when they were in prime form. When South Africa famously saved a Test at Adelaide in 2012 by batting out the entire fifth day, de Villiers played his part by stonewalling Lyon and co for 220 deliveries while scoring just 33 runs. In the very next match at Perth, he scored a magnificent 169 to help his team win the match and series. In the last series between the Aussies and South Africans, the infamous 2018 rubber, de Villiers again starred with a superb knock in the second Test which allowed the Proteas to level the series after losing the first match.
Kohli too has enjoyed great success against Australia. He has seven Test hundreds against the kangaroos, six of them scored away from home. Of these, four came in the 2014/15 series alone. Yet, Lyon has picked up the wicket of Kohli seven times in Tests, the most for any bowler in the format.
So clearly, Lyon has good reason to rate de Villiers higher. But while the South African has retired from international cricket, Kohli remains and will remain active for some time to come. Hopefully, we will some more riveting contests between the two.